SNYDER: Lance Armstrong has no more room to backpedal

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When Lance Armstrong’s moment of truth finally arrived, after years of avoidance, deception and misdirection, he ignored the advice of the sneaker company that recently disowned him.

Nike says “Just do it.”

Armstrong just blew it.

In the cyclist’s first public comments since the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released an exhaustive report detailing his use of performance-enhancing drugs, the seven-time Tour de France winner didn’t come clean. He didn’t admit what many observers considered painfully obvious for more than a decade. He didn’t use the moment to confess his deeds while continuing to profess his cause.

Instead, the same man who vehemently denied doping since his first Tour de France victory in 1999, the same man who disparaged former teammates who simply told the truth about him, and the same man who vowed to fight accusations until his dying breath, skirted the issue like a pile-up in the peloton.

During opening remarks Friday at the 15th anniversary celebration of his Livestrong Foundation, Armstrong merely said he has been through a “difficult couple of weeks.”

Opportunity missed. Empathy denied.

I’m not suggesting that Armstrong should have grabbed the mic and offered a drawn-out apology for duping millions of supporters who believed his claims of innocence (no matter how outrageous his protestations grew). But his comments should have made a direct connection to USADA’s 1,000-plus page report — that includes sworn testimony from 26 people, including 15 riders — alleging a long-running conspiracy involving banned substances, blood transfusions and sophisticated measures to avoid positive drug tests.

Armstrong should have indicated some measure of regret and remorse. At the very least, he should have employed the language of vague acknowledgment, tossing in well-worn phrases such as “poor decisions” and “bad choices.”

The crowd of 1,700 gave him a standing ovation before he spoke, showing support that former sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch and bike manufacturer Trek failed to offer. Nike, arguably Armstrong’s greatest enabler, tried to sound clueless in severing its relationship, citing “seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade.”

Hypocritical as the act is, Nike had no choice but to drop Armstrong. He’s now a toxic asset for premier corporate brands, which are interested in the appearance of appropriateness more than actual propriety. Nike was wise, though, in covering itself on both ends, asserting its continued backing of Livestrong, which has raised $500 million to help people fighting cancer since Armstrong started the foundation following his own diagnosis in 1996.

Separating Armstrong the Inspiring Survivor from Armstrong the Doping Cyclist shouldn’t be difficult. The fact that his cycling victories were chemically-aided (against fields of similarly-assisted cyclists) doesn’t taint his victory against testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain, leaving him with a 40 percent survival chance after surgery.

He rightfully reminded supporters of the distinction between Livestrong and Armstrong.

“The mission is bigger than me,” he told the crowd Friday. “It’s bigger than any individual.” Armstrong said he has been asked repeatedly how he’s doing. “I say, ‘I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse.’”

Worse could come Monday, when the International Cycling Union is expected to announce whether it will accept USADA’s findings. If that cycling body does not appeal the sanctions, including Armstrong’s lifetime ban, the Tour de France has indicated it will vacate all of Armstrong’s victories from 1999-2005.

The upcoming decision won’t alter the guilty verdict most of us reached way before last week’s revelations. The only question is how long Armstrong sticks to the silent treatment. He certainly can’t resume his previous strategy of deny, deny, deny.

Continuing that lie would be more shameful than the crime itself (if you want to call it a crime; I don’t).

Armstrong’s story is no less incredible just because he was a pedaling pharmacy. The number of patients he has helped is just as great. Nothing he’s done on his bike can reduce the good he’s done on his feet, the innumerable contributions to cancer awareness and research.

Some folks, like former Livestrong supporter Michael Birdsong of Salt Lake City, don’t get it. “The charity was established and publicized and got their funds based on a fraud,” he told CNN. “The whole thing is founded on a lie. I would like my money back. We donated under false pretenses.”

Others, like Bob Kile of Kent, Wash., have a more reasoned view. “If Lance doped, that certainly takes away from his athletic wins,” Kile told CNN. “However, to survive what he did and come back at all is impressive. To come back and create good like he did with Livestrong is even better.”

Agreed. Armstrong just needs to come clean and move on.

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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